3 August – River Tavy

The Devon air was fresh and clean and so were the rivers. There were lots of rivers to explore but I was drawn to the Tavy. I probably should have widened my horizons but I’d caught Trout there on a previous visit and my confidence was high. The ground was firm and dry which would allow me to navigate the steep track down the side of the valley in the knowledge that I would be able to drive out later that evening. The high pressure and hot weather had returned. So had the children and spaniels, a late start was called for.

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I was impatient. As usual. It was tea time when I arrived, I could hear the splashing and shrieks long before I reached the river. The smell of wood smoke drifted down the valley and a Buzzard mewed just above the ancient Oak trees. I approached the pool quietly, keeping to the tree line. I passed two chattering women less than a few yards away without attracting their attention. A young boy hurled rocks into the deepest pool. Further upstream I sat and watched the water for an hour. Each pebble and crease in the bedrock was visible. The water level was good and the runs and pools all held trout. The surface of the water was alive with midges and a few sedges fluttered around the river.

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I walked to the footbridge where the Tavy and Walkham meet, the rivers each have their own character. The Tavy is wide and strong, big brother to the Walkham. I spent most of the evening watching the water and taking photos but when I returned to the Big Pool the humans had been replaced by kingfishers and the urge to cast a fly took over. I sat quietly on the stones and tried dry flies, buzzers and a Black and Silver Spider but the fish were unimpressed. The Sea Trout were leaping but not taking and with each cast their activity moderated. I repeatedly told myself to stay until dark but I was tired and frustrated. Next time perhaps, after the rain.

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30 July – River Itchen

My day started with a leisurely drive in the cool cabin of the Volvo listening to Beethoven. I was beside the river by noon and spent an hour wandering around looking for fish and admiring the scenery. It was hot, breezy and the air was clean. It felt more like the South of France than Hampshire.

I found two large Salmon, some Chub and Grayling in a back eddy under a line of scrub Willow.  A much larger salmon occupied a lie in midstream. The fish looked relaxed and the Chub were feeding. I sat and watched the shoal for twenty minutes, they were easy to see in the bright sunlight even though the eddy was five to six feet deep.

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I bent a few stems to enlarge the letterbox through which I would waggle the rod. I laid the landing net over some plants that were out of reach and tied on a Walker’s Sedge. The stage was set. The first couple of casts, into the wind, were short. I pushed a little harder and the leader curled nicely towards the bank. One of the Chub turned and followed the fly downstream before rejoining the shoal.

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The same fish took the fly gently the next cast. It ran downstream but failed to get it’s head in the weeds. It was a struggle to get it in the landing net. The fish was a bit thin after spawning and weighed about 3lbs. A great start to the day.

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The three Salmon weighed between 12lbs and 15lbs and I surrendered my Beat to a couple of Salmon anglers in exchange for the shade of Beat Three. I had lunch and gathered my thoughts before exploring the top pool. There were a lot of good sized Trout in the pool, wandering around and occasionally rising to take a fly.

I had chosen the silk line to help with presentation. I hooked a fish on a Walker’s Sedge but it escaped. I wandered down the true right bank and returned to the top of the Beat up the opposite bank. I found several fish but spooked them with wayward casts. The silk line was too fine in the tip and impossible to cast accurately in the head wind. I had afternoon tea and swapped back to the Rio Chalkstream Special.

 

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The fish had settled and were feeding delicately on midges in the fast water. I tried various flies but the fish were educated and rejected all of them. I chose a Black Neoprene Buzzer and the tippet moved away on the first cast. I lifted into the fish but it also escaped as it came to the landing net. After resting the pool I presented the fly to a rising Trout and to my surprise, it took confidently. I played it gently and I was relieved when the landing net engulfed the fish.

I spent some time offering the buzzer to Trout and Grayling but the pattern was no longer effective. I will have to experiment with various coloured buzzers on my next visit.

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16 July – River Itchen

I remembered to take a waterproof jacket. I also took a three course lunch and plenty to drink. No beer. The journey west was a nightmare of dense traffic and endless average speed cameras. My mind was cluttered with non-fishing things but all thoughts disappeared when I drove over the bridge and saw the green fronds waving in the crystal clear water.

The early morning overcast had burnt off and the sunlight was intense. I had good access to both sides of the Beat and could easily avoid casting shadows everywhere. I peeped around the corner of a bush to scan the depths of the hatch pool and saw two huge dark shadows gliding around in the ribbons of the main current. I must have been seen as they melted into the depths of the pool never to reappear. I consoled myself with the thought that they were probably Chub.

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My last visit was a bit of a mare. Everything went wrong and the day was only rescued by a late Grayling and the gorgeous scenery. I had worked too hard and messed things up. Today would be different, calmer, no pressure.

I sat behind the fringe of cover and watched a couple of Trout. A fish of about 2lbs and a smaller one were visiting the surface occasionally and sipping down invisible insects. They were feeding confidently and hadn’t seen me. I thought “try the big fish” but that would have lined it’s companion and good sense prevailed. I estimated the distance to the nearest fish at two rod lengths, twenty feet. I flicked ten feet of fly line and the same length of leader along the grass and added a yard for drift. I held the parachute Pheasant Tail between finger and thumb and rolled the line out. The fly landed well upstream of the Trout, there was no drag and the fish lifted slowly to gulp the fly down.

I fully expected the fish to shake the hook but after a long battle, well downstream, the net engulfed a beautiful brownie. I released it into the streamer weed and made plans to move down the Beat. The fly was trashed and by the time I’d replaced it the bigger Trout had resumed it’s station and was feeding again.

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I watched the bigger, dark coloured Trout for a while and studied it’s routine. It was slightly head-down and quite deep but every few minutes it would rise to the surface and inspect the debris, looking for food. The cast was about three rod lengths. Once again the roll-from-the-hand positioned the fly about a yard upstream, the fish rose in slow motion and took the fly. When hooked it shot downstream and tried to bury itself in a weedbed but I bent the rod and held tight knowing that I had already avoided a blank day.

In an hour I’d had two takes and landed two nice fish. None escaped and I hadn’t scared any Trout. That was well above my average. It was time for lunch.

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After lunch and a long chat with the Keeper, I walked down the shady side of the Beat looking for fish in the pockets of clear gravel. I found a fish but although I was peering through a gap between the rushes and an overhanging Willow, not skylined or in sunlight, it slowly drifted sideways under a weedbed. I noted the patch of gravel for later.

I walked the rest of the Beat and found two huge fish in a big pool. They looked about 10lbs and were either Barbel or Salmon, it was difficult to tell in the deep fast moving water. I wandered back upstream and found the patch of gravel. Two fish were in residence. I prepared the line and raised the rod to start the cast, both fish immediately bolted. It was probably sunlight flashing on the glossy varnish.

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In the top pool another Trout was feeding. I presented a parachute Pheasant Tail which was closely inspected. I tried a smaller size, that was also rejected although the fish seemed more convinced. I swapped to a size 14 parachute Iron Blue and that was taken as the fish turned around to follow it downstream. The fish was the biggest of the day and put up a good fight.

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At the lower end of the Beat, in a narrow stretch, I found a nice fish between tall beds of sedge. The cast was tricky and the fish was deep. I induced a take but although the fish came to the surface it shied away at the last moment.

Back at the top of the Beat I found two Trout, an Eel and several Grayling on a shallow gravel bed. They were occasionally visited by a pair of nice Chub. It was like an aquarium. I had the luxury of presenting a series of flies to various fish, all of which ignored my best attempts.

The day had been a complete success. A welcome change, even the drive home was bearable. It’s all in the mind, relax and enjoy.

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13 July – River Tavy

The conditions were perfect, recent rain, overcast and not too windy. I decided to fish a Beat that I had walked in March but not yet fished. I arrived late in the afternoon and walked down into the valley in light rain. There were footprints and a few wheel tracks but the bankside vegetation hadn’t been trodden down.

The first pool I saw was a long curving run beside a rockface with a riffle at the top. As I watched the water a good fish rose for a sedge so I sheltered under a tree and setup the rod.

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The rain got heavier but I hunkered down on the stony beach and worked the pool with a nymph. A good fish flashed gold in the amber coloured water. The Trout turned and flashed repeatedly,  just like a hooked fish. It was over a patch of coarse sand just on the edge of deep water.  Occasionally it took a sedge in an aggressive rise. I tried various nymphs and a Walker’s Sedge but there was no response.

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I was crouched among the granite stones, well camouflaged and with a low profile. A very large Herring Gull flew towards me low over the tree line on my left. As I turned to watch, my movement alarmed the giant bird and it veered away. Seconds later there was a thump on the ground, it had dropped something. It was the remains of a Sea Trout, ‘A Sign From Isaac‘. I didn’t know whether to laugh at the irony or be annoyed about the predation of a valuable fish. It was the most bizarre thing to have happened to me while fishing. Ever.

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Distracted and bewildered, I changed the fly to a black and silver spider and fished it hard against the rockface in the main current. As the fly swung under the overhanging branches the line became heavy and a fish was on. Only for a few seconds. It was a small Sea Trout.

Although I concentrated and fished a couple of other runs there were no more takes. I was soaked to the skin and the long walk out of the valley was exhausting. I felt that I was getting closer to landing a good Trout from one of the Dartmoor rivers.

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9 July – River Cad

For once it didn’t rain and the drive westwards was quite enjoyable.  The river at the bottom of the garden was honey coloured in the evening but had cleared overnight and the fat little Trout were rising for midges. Until they saw me, then they melted away, they disappeared in six inches of crystal clear water. Amazing.

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The humidity and uniform grey overcast were tiresome but perfect for fishing. Not on the moor, the weather would be nasty up there. A lush green river valley devoid of people and spaniels would be ideal.

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I started with a black spider and although I experimented with other patterns,  I kept returning to that fly, I had confidence in the colour, weight and size. The scenery was spectacular. The gnarled old Oaks covered in bright green lichen and the granite boulders combined to create a primordial landscape. The cold, clear water smashed it’s way through crevices and poured over bed rock forming long, fast riffles. Water that looked shallow threatened the top of my wellies, some of the pools were over four feet deep.

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While leaning against a tree I noticed a Golden Ringed dragon fly, the UK’s biggest, emerging from the larval shuck. It dried it’s wings, growled at me and thankfully zoomed off to kill something else.

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I dropped a fly over a boulder the size of a mini and a double-tap signalled the presence of a brownie. I walked downstream for three hours, exploring every pool and riffle. A couple of Trout attacked the fly but I failed to make contact. I was more interested in the landscape than the fish. I think the valley is the most beautiful I have ever fished. The pictures tell the story.

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